WORTHINGTON — After hearing closing arguments and final instructions, the jury has gone into deliberation regarding the state's case against Christopher Kruse for the murder of Janette Pigman-Kruse.
The jury has spent eight days hearing testimony from a total of 41 witnesses, 37 called by the prosecution and four by the defense. Closing statements Wednesday allowed attorneys on both sides to review the evidence that has been presented and make a last appeal to the jury.
The prosecution closed first, then the defense, after which the prosecution was allowed a rebuttal.
Giving closing arguments for the state was Assistant Nobles County Attorney Braden Hoefert. He explained that the jury should convict Kruse of murder on five grounds:
- The evidence shows there was no intruder in the Kruse residence Aug 19, 2015.
- Christopher Kruse's .12-gauge shotgun recovered from his shop is the murder weapon.
- Christopher Kruse had a motive for murdering Janette Pigman-Kruse.
- Christopher Kruse provided false information to law enforcement.
- Christopher Kruse's actions following his wife's murder show consciousness of guilt.
Hoefert said that neither Kruse nor his daughter, Bailey, reported seeing or hearing anyone else in the house that night. Based on Kruse's own narrative of what happened, he added, a long list of things would have to have taken place before Kruse ever looked in the doorway of his bedroom.
"The only way the defendant doesn't see someone in that doorway is that the defendant is in the doorway," Hoefert said. "There's no one to see but himself."
The attorney also pointed out that Kruse didn't grab a gun to defend himself, even though there was a .22 rifle and a full magazine right there in the bedroom. In Kruse's first interview with law enforcement, he told the detectives that he'd considered arming himself but decided he didn't need a gun.
"If he didn't need a gun in this scenario," Hoefert asked, "when would he?"
He also said that Kruse reported that the dogs in the backyard were not barking, although they normally would if there was anyone in the yard.
When police brought a K9 officer to track a scent, nothing was detected, despite "ideal" tracking conditions that morning.
Hoefert next addressed the alleged murder weapon, Kruse's .12-gauge.
The firearm was found in Kruse's shop in Brewster, door locked, with no sign of a break-in. Kruse also told law enforcement that the gun was found in the last place he'd left it. Notably, that gun was the only one in the house or shop that wasn't in a case or a cabinet, Hoefert added.
Although Matthew Noedel, a privately contracted forensic scientist hired by the defense, was not certain that that gun had shot the evidence shells, Hoefert said that three different BCA forensic scientists agreed that it had, using more information than Noedel.
He also walked through the night's timeline to show that Kruse had time to move the gun from the house to the shop.
Bailey Kruse had estimated that she heard two gunshots around 2:30 a.m. At 2:39, Christopher Kruse called 911 to report the shooting. The audio of that call reveals that he was not in the room with the victim, nor was he with Bailey.
When the dispatcher asked Kruse if the gun was in the house, he immediately said no. Hoefert suggested that the only way he would be so sure so quickly is if he'd moved the gun to the shop.
At 2:40, Bailey texted her mom, and at 2:41, she texted her dad. She testified earlier in the trial that she had not seen her parents before texting them, and that she waited only one or two minutes after the shots before texting them. Therefore, Hoefert said, the two shots were probably fired around 2:38 a.m.
Emergency services arrived at the house at 2:48 a.m. Somewhere in that 10-minute window, Kruse had time to drive the half-mile to his shop and back. A BCA detective drove the route and learned that it took just one minute to make the trip to the shop.
Hoefert then discussed the statement that only Kruse had a motive to kill his wife. Although the state is not required to prove a motive, the attorney noted, naming a motive can help establish intent and premeditation.
Several witnesses testified that Janette Pigman-Kruse loved Spider Lake Resort, like her husband, and would have liked to purchase the property. However, Hoefert said, only Kruse was willing to put all the family's assets into buying the failing business — a total of $550,000.
As far as Kruse would have known at the time, his wife had $150,000 in life insurance. On Aug. 17, 2015, Kruse had a 57-minute phone conversation with the resort owner in which the owner himself testified that Kruse made an offer of $700,000, Hoefert noted.
"The timing is certainly conspicuous," Hoefert said.
Although Kruse has not been able to receive any life insurance payout because of the active criminal investigation, his insurance agent testified that Kruse called every three to six months to ask for a status update. Additionally, Kruse discovered that he was able to redirect the funds to his children, but decided not to.
Hoefert also referenced the couple that was seen fighting while on a walk just hours before Pigman-Kruse's death. Nobles County Sheriff's deputies knocked on 185 doors in Brewster, and no other people were matched to the description of the couple provided by the witness.
The attorney's fourth point was that Kruse gave false information to law enforcement — namely that he was in bed when Pigman-Kruse was shot.
"It's blood or bullet," Hoefert said. Either Kruse was right next to his wife, in which case he would have been covered in her blood, or he was on the left edge of the bed, and he would have been hit by the first shotgun blast.
"It's not possible for him to be in the bed," Hoefert said. "The physical evidence proves it."
Lastly, Hoefert addressed Kruse's actions following the murder.
When he made the 911 call, Kruse very quickly alluded to what he thought had happened: "We were in bed, heard a bang, got up, she was shot, back door wide open," he told the dispatcher.
"He's describing it like someone stole a package off his doorstep or ran over his mailbox," Hoefert noted. In this first contact with law enforcement, it's as if Kruse is already suggesting that there was an intruder, the attorney said.
Additionally, while he was on the phone with the dispatcher, Kruse determined that his wife was already dead just by glancing at her from the bedroom doorway. At no point did he assess her or try to help her, Hoefert said.
Twice during his closing, Hoefert advised the jury about discerning the credibility of witnesses. He referred to testimony given by Bailey Kruse and by Katherine Holck, Pigman-Kruse's sister. Both of them gave different testimony during the March 2019 grand jury than they did during the trial over the last week and a half.
Bailey "is under enormous pressure," Hoefert said. "She has no motivation to tell the police anything that is incriminating toward her father."
Holck, too, had different stakes this time around, he noted. He suggested that her grand jury testimony — which said that Kruse was not emotional following his wife's death, that their marriage wasn't affectionate and that they'd considered divorce — is likely more truthful. At the grand jury, nobody had yet been charged with a crime, so Holck "had less incentive to try to shift things in (Kruse's) favor."
Although Hoefert used a narrative strategy, defense attorney Thomas Hagen preferred to review the testimony given by each witness in the case.
Hagen began by explaining that the state needs to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, promising to build for the jury "a raft of doubt" during his remarks. He also reminded the jurors that Kruse is presumed innocent unless the state proves him guilty.
Hagen also used time markers to show the jury why the defense believes Kruse did not murder his wife. He turned to a video submitted by the Minnesota Soybean Processors plant northeast of Brewster. It shows footage of vehicles passing nearby the Kruse residence close to the time of Pigman-Kruse's murder.
At 2:24 a.m., a vehicle passed, driven by Justin Colby, who testified in the trial that he saw a car diagonally across the street from the Kruses' home as he was passing.
At 2:38 a.m. — the same time the gunshots would have been fired — another, unidentified, vehicle passes. Hagen suggested that this could be the killer leaving town.
He invited the jury to hear Kruse's 911 call again and "listen to what's not there." For example, he said, there are no sounds of a car or garage door, and Kruse isn't out of breath or running, as he might have been if he had quickly moved the murder weapon to his shop.
Although Kruse was consistently unable to recall all the details of the incident perfectly, Hagen noted that the first officer on the scene, Dustin Roemeling, had also said he couldn't remember perfectly what happened due to the heightened stress of the situation.
To address the fact that a K9 couldn't identify a scent at the scene, Hagen said that by the time so many first responders, officers and the Kruses' own dog milled around the yard, any detectable scent would have been obscured.
The attorney also discussed the firearms evaluation done on Kruse's gun, noting that only a small sample of firearms were tested and that firearm examination is a "soft" science.
"My submission is that it's not the gun," Hagen said.
As for the state's proposed motive, Hagen called it "laughable" and "comical." Kruse never made an offer in writing, he said, so the $700,000 talked about can't be considered a real offer. He also recalled that although Kruse signed his joint life insurance policy with his wife, she was really the one managing the finances, so Kruse was not well informed about how much life insurance was available.
Hagen noted that Kruse cooperated with law enforcement throughout the investigation, voluntarily speaking with them, allowing searches of his home and shop and providing DNA, fingerprints and phone data.
Hagen also re-submitted Jeremy Majerus as a possible suspect. Majerus lied to police on multiple occasions, owned a Remington 870 and appeared nervous during his interview with law enforcement.
"I don't want to say that Mr. Majerus did this," Hagen said — he wouldn't be willing to accuse someone without a thorough investigation of that person first. But, he added, Majerus's testimony raised some questions that are worth exploring.
"The state wants you to believe that Jeremy, all of a sudden, is this beacon of truth," Hagen said. "He's not."
As a motive, Hagen said that Majerus didn't want the Kruses to move up to Spider Lake and take Bailey away from him.
On the subject of Bailey, Hagen agreed that much of the case rests on her truthfulness or lack thereof.
"If Bailey's not lying, then it's 'not guilty,' right now," he said.
Although Kruse chose not to testify on his own behalf, Hagen said that the six hours of interviews with Kruse sufficed.
The state was able to offer a rebuttal to Hagen's closing. Hoefert repeated that the circumstances were too convenient, noting the timing of the offer on Spider Lake Resort, the couple seen fighting in the street and other elements.
"That's too many coincidences," Hoefert said.
He reiterated that Kruse could not have been in bed with his wife at the time of her murder, but once he'd said that, he couldn't change his story, because there was nowhere else for him to be except for in the doorway holding a .12-gauge.
As for Jeremy Majerus, Hoefert noted that Majerus had told police and the court information that Bailey Kruse had denied and had asked him not to share.
If Majerus is the one who killed Pigman-Kruse, he asked, "What motivation does Jeremy have to make Bailey seem like a liar?"
"It is your duty to decide the questions of fact in this case," Fifth Judicial District Judge Terry Vajgrt told the jury. He instructed them to consider both direct and circumstantial (inferred from other facts) evidence, as the law does not prefer one over the other and either may be used to prove facts.
The judge also told jurors to regard their recollection as more important than the notes they took over the course of the court proceedings. He reminded them that remarks made by attorneys are not considered evidence.
Vajgrt also addressed believability of witnesses, asking jurors to consider the following factors:
- Interest or lack of interest a witness may have in the outcome of the case
- Relationship to parties
- A person's ability to remember or relate to the facts
- Manner, age and experience
- Frankness and sincerity
- Reasonableness or unreasonableness of testimony
- Impeachment (questions of credibility)
- Other factors
"The defendant has no obligation to prove his innocence," Vajgrt said. "You should not draw any inference from the fact that the defendant has chosen not to testify."
Vajgrt reminded the jury of the five elements that must be proven in order to convict Kruse of first-degree murder. Two have already been stipulated to by both parties: that Janette Pigman-Kruse is deceased and that her death occurred Aug. 19, 2015 in Nobles County. The remaining elements are that Kruse caused Pigman-Kruse's death, that he intended to do so and that his actions were premeditated. For a second-degree murder conviction, all of the same elements must be proven except for premeditation.
The jury's verdict must be unanimous, and Vajgrt advised the jurors to be willing to change their minds based on their discussion with fellow jurors.
Although 15 jurors have watched the court proceedings, only 12 may participate in deliberation toward a verdict. Three alternates were selected in case any jurors took ill or became otherwise unable to complete their jury service. Vajgrt excused the alternates, who were the last three jurors selected.
After about two hours of deliberation, the jury took a break for the night. They will resume deliberating Thursday morning.